Maryland Gov. O’Malley aims to reduce domestic abuse by 25 percent

As Emily Babay reports for the Washington Examiner, authorities in Maryland have distributed more than $9 million in funds from the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Crime Act, part of Maryland Gov. O’Malley’s effort to reduce domestic violence perpetrated against women and children.

Jennie Boden is the executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She says that in order to achieve a 25 percent reduction in violent crime against women and children, it all comes down to prevention.

As Babay reports, this news comes in the wake of two high-profile cases in Maryland involving allegations that a man murdered his wife and stepson, as well as another man who was accused of killing his stepdaughter.

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said, “We need these resources to enhance prosecution of domestic abusers and to support the professionals who help victims through the legal system with dignity.”

There is no doubt that domestic violence is a problem in Maryland, but we should not forget that allegations of domestic violence should not always be taken at face value; the accused has every right as anyone else to a defense.

Source: The Washington Examiner, “Md. agencies get funds to curb domestic violence, help crime victims,” by Emily Babay, 11/5/11

Warning: Don’t post your photos of domestic abuse on Facebook

“This is wut happens wen my baby hits me back,” says the caption, as CBS News reporters write. In the blurred image, you can see a toddler (she is one year old) bound in blue painter’s tape – her wrists, her ankles, her mouth.

21-year-old Andre Curry’s Facebook friends were quick to report him to the authorities, as well as write comments like “nasty dirty child abuser.” Curry has apparently removed the photo from Facebook. Nonetheless, he has been charged with domestic abuse.

In Maryland, the law of domestic violence is quite broad, and can include everything from an argument between a husband and wife (or boyfriend and girlfriend) to child abuse perpetrated by a father or mother (or even sibling) against a son or daughter, brother or sister.

In other words, any relationship that involves violence where people live under one roof, are related by blood, or had a significant prior romantic relationship, can result in domestic abuse charges.

Accused of domestica abuse, contact a Maryland criminal lawyer before you talk to police or anyone else.

Source: CBS News, “Child abuse charges for man who allegedly bound toddler with tape, posted photos to Facebook,” 12/21/11

Prosecutor briefly decides to stop prosecuting misdemeanor domestic abuse

Leigh Goodmark, writing for the Baltimore Sun, advocates for “alternative methods” of dealing with domestic abuse – after a city prosecutor made the decision (due to budget cuts) to stop prosecuting misdemeanor domestic abuse cases.

After the prosecutor announced the news, the city council repealed its misdemeanor domestic violence law, which “decriminalized” that particular crime, leading Claudine Dombrowski, a prior victim of domestic violence, to throw a pair of dice across the room.

As Dombrowski’s action illustrates, the prosecutor and city council were “rolling the dice” with women’s lives with their decision to decriminalize the offense.

(The prosecutor began prosecuting misdemeanor-level domestic violence crime again after public outrage.)

But the example leads Goodmark to question whether the legal system does enough to protect women from domestic abuse in the first place: “holding men who abuse accountable for their actions,” and writes that rates of domestic violence have not gone down since the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.

Erosion of “criminal intent” provisions can affect domestic abuse cases

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal takes an in-depth look at federal laws and some of the general requirements needed to prove someone committed one. The article looks at laws related to many different areas and explains how across most areas, provisions requiring a prosecutor to prove that a person willfully or knowingly broke a federal law in order to convict that person have been reduced or eliminated all together.

Because federal crimes now number in the thousands and include many laws that a reasonable citizen would not know about, there is a high risk that someone will be convicted for a crime that they committed, but had no idea was against the law. The WSJ gives an example in a domestic violence probation case in 1999.

The WSJ tells the story of a man who was found guilty of violating a federal law that says that people who have been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge cannot possess guns. The man was convicted of domestic violence in the beginning of the 1990s. At the time he was convicted, this federal law was not in place. It was passed into law after his conviction, but the misdemeanor domestic violence conviction remained on his record.

The man had no idea that this law had been passed after his conviction, but the law was applied to him anyway. Prosecutors did not have to prove that he broke the law on purpose, but only that the man knew he had guns. The man was convicted, and he was sentenced to five years’ probation.

Congress passes many laws every year that do not include mens rea provisions. Many judges and some lawmakers have complained about the way these laws are sloppily put together without criminal intent requirements and left to courts to sort out. These people are working on ways to reform how laws are made in Congress.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “As Federal Crime List Grows, Threshold of Guilt Declines,” Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller, Sept. 27, 2011

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention month

Anna Johnson writes for the Daily Californian that February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention month, which grew out of what Johnson reports as the roughly 2.3 million people who experience some form of domestic violence every year in the U.S.

Johnson asserts that domestic violence is not a private matter (recently, a sheriff was accused of misdemeanor charges of domestic abuse against his wife and apparently told authorities or media that it was a “private matter, a family matter”), and claims that it “comes at us from all angles.”

It’s true that victims of domestic violence should get the help they need – we commonly represent people who need to obtain orders of protection in our family law cases – but we also often defend people who are criminally charged with domestic violence.

In our criminal defense practice, we have come to see that charges do not automatically mean that the alleged perpetrator is an abusive person. In criminal cases, the defendant is still presumed innocent until proven guilty, or should be, and yet domestic abuse cases of not black-and-white – they’re gray.

For example, mere allegations of domestic abuse – without any confirming physical evidence – can lead to the arrest of the alleged perpetrator.

It’s good that February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention month, but we must not forget that teen relationships – especially those that involve sex – are relationships that involve two people, one of whom may be unfairly charged.

Young man ‘vilified’ in case involving domestic violence, murder

As Tricia Bishop reports for the Baltimore Sun, defense lawyers are questioning whether young 24-year-old George Huguely can get an untainted jury – a jury who hasn’t possibly already made up its mind – in a case where Huguely has long been painted in the media as a violent perpetrator of domestic abuse.

Huguely had prior run-ins with the police, including two arrests related to alcohol, and in one of those arrests he had apparently “threatened violence” against the police. Bishop writes that Huguely was “struggling with alcohol and anger issues.”

The so-called alcohol and anger issues came to a head when Huguely was charged with the first-degree murder of his on-again, off-again girlfriend Yeardley Love. Both Huguely and Love were part of an “elite” group of lacrosse athletes in college, apparently born into privilege, having attended prep schools and in possession of “bright” futures.

Two weeks prior to college graduation, as Bishop reports, Love lost her life, and the media descended upon the area, printing up “sensational” headlines like “Huguely … was a man of privilege, rage.”

Now, in the middle of jury selection, most – if not all – of the potential jurors are claiming that they’ve learned about the case in prior reports and would have trouble staying unbiased in considering Huguely’s innocence or guilt.

Baltimore police to expand domestic violence reduction program

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Baltimore police will be increasing efforts to crack down on suspected domestic violence offenders through the use of a $750,000 federal grant to expand a program aimed at reducing domestic violence.

The grant will fund a new program known as the Domestic Violence Reduction Initiative in three Baltimore police districts, and it will be expanded at some point to include the entire city.

According to The Baltimore Sun, the mayor of Baltimore said that the problem of domestic violence needs more solutions than just City Hall. This federal grant money will be used in part to pay police overtime in the Family Crimes Unit. The unit serves warrants, protective orders and meets with victims of domestic violence in their homes.

Money will also be used to pay the salary of an individual to coordinate the program and ensure that Baltimore officers are performing lethality assessments with victims.

Officers in the Northern, Northeast and Southern Districts completed 3,900 lethality assessments so far, which are designed to establish whether there is a good chance that a violent crime may be committed in an ongoing domestic violence case. A Spanish language version of the lethality assessment is also set to be implemented.

The Police Commissioner of Baltimore reported officers have served 1,100 warrants in 2011 and that the grant money will allow them to process additional warrants.

A separate $339,000 state grant will be used to fund a supervised visitation center where parents can exchange custody of their children. The visitation center is scheduled to open within the next year.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, “City police expand domestic violence reduction program,” Luke Broadwater, Oct. 3, 2011

Getting out of jury duty

As Katie Moisse writes for ABC News, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an affliction “brought on by a traumatic event, such as domestic abuse.”

But in 57-year-old Susan Cole’s case, however, she didn’t appear to have experienced domestic abuse, even though that’s what she told the judge. Rather, Cole claimed to have PTSD in order to get out of jury duty.

“Her makeup looked like something you would wear during a theater performance,” according to one eyewitness, a court reporter, as Moisse reports. According to Moisse’s report, Cole showed up with mismatched shoes, crazy makeup and curlers in her hair.

Roughly a year later that same judge who presided over jury selection happened to be listening to the local radio show when Cole called in and “bragged” about her jury-dodging feat.

Says a psychiatrist who deals with PTSD cases, “As a mental health professional, I find this disturbing and upsetting. PTSD is a very serious, life threatening illness. And things like this tend to trivialize it.”

Cole has been charged with perjury.

Unemployment benefits possible for victims of domestic abuse

As WBAL News reports, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown wants a law passed that will provide for unemployment benefits for people who lose their jobs or quit employment because of domestic abuse.

According to the report, 163 Maryland women must choose safety over working every year.

This bill turns long-standing law regarding unemployment benefits on its head-one part of it anyway: employees who quit cannot take unemployment benefits. Employees must generally be fired or otherwise lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

But for many people who claim to be victims of domestic violence, often they must quit in order to provide for their own safety. One representative of a domestic abuse center said, “We’ve had plenty of clients experience their abusers not only calling and harassing them at work, but also showing up at work and sometimes perpetrating violence at their place of employment.”

Lt. Gov. Brown says that the benefits (in terms of workplace productivity and lives saved) outweigh the cost of the law, whic

Man arrested and charged with murder after boasting of crime on Facebook

The woman moved in with him soon after they met at the beginning of the summer. The man has a history of being charged with violent crimes, including domestic violence. He admitted to police on Wednesday in a written and a videotaped confession that he had shot his girlfriend during an argument on Monday.

The couple’s argument on Monday became heated. According to the man charged with her murder, the girlfriend accused him of sleeping with other women and brandished a knife at him. He says that he was accusing her of stealing from his marijuana stash when she took out the knife to stab him. His attorney says that she wounded his hand with a serious gash.

He says that he took out a gun in self defense and that it went off accidentally. She was shot in the chest and died from the wound. He was recorded on a surveillance camera running out of the building after the shooting and police found the murder weapon in the area outside the apartment building where he had been running.

The incident is a reminder to be careful what you make public on social media sites. The man was apparently attempting to quote a rap song by DMX, 50 Cent and Styles P. that says, “I smell murder every time that the wind blow.” He also had many photos on his site and comments written that professed his love for and frequent use of the illegal drug, marijuana.

Source: New York Post, “Status madness: Murder boast on ‘killer’s’ Facebook,” Larry Celona, Doug Auer, Don Kaplan, Sept. 23, 2011